The Beatles released Revolver, their seventh studio album, on August 5th, 1966. A little more than one month later, it was hitting the top of the US album chart, where it stayed for six weeks.
But what exactly made Revolver so great? It might have had something to do with the timing. The Beatles were just coming off the release of Rubber Soul, and their final UK concert tour. Once the tour was over, The Beatles retired to Abbey Road studios to begin work on their next album. With no concerns about reproducing any songs they came up with live, they were free to experiment and stretch their songwriting skills.
Speaking of experimenting, Revolver is also the album that reflects the influence of psychedelic drugs like LSD taken by band members during the time. You can hear this in the lyrics with references to death and transcendence from the material, as well as in the sheer abundance of different sounds never recorded before. Revolver was The Beatles at their most experimental yet.
Harrison Steps Up
George Harrison contributed three songs that made it to the album, a first for him. The running joke among the group had been that Harrison would get one song per album, but in Revolver, Harrison really came into his own as a songwriter.
The first of these is the opening track, “Taxman”, a topical critique on the high levels of income tax by the British Government. A non-love song, like many on this album, ‘Taxman’ starts the album off with a bang. And coming from Harrison, this marked a more experimental and creative approach to songwriting. Although the Indian-inspired solo at the end was contributed by Paul McCartney.
Harrison’s second hit showcases his increased interest in Indian culture, as well as proficiency on the sitar, “Love You To”. Both Lennon and Harrison were becoming more interested with Indian culture through their continued experimentation with LSD. “Love You To” was the first Beatles song to fully reflect the influence of Indian classical music.
Lastly, Harrison contributed “I Want To Tell You”, another song with a non-traditional structure to it, showing Harrison’s creativity both lyrically and musically. And, an additional fun fact: this is one of my personal favorites of the album.
During the recording of Revolver, The Beatles experimented with a number of different recording techniques. The most notable of these was their use of artificial double tracking (ADT) to enhance the sound of their vocals, a technique The Beatles pioneered with the help of their studio engineers.
Artificial double tracking is an analog recording technique that uses tape delay to create a copy of an audio signal, which is then combined with the original. You can hear it pretty clearly on “Tomorrow Never Knows”, when John Lennon’s voice gets all spacey.
Other recording techniques included a fascination with playing pieces of music and other audio clips backwards for effect. You can hear this on “Tomorrow Never Knows”. At the end of the song, that high-pitched seagull voice is really Paul McCartney’s laughter sped up and played in reverse. Likewise, the reversed guitar solo by Harrison on “I’m Only Sleeping” was unprecedented in pop music.
Since its release, Revolver has achieved an incredible amount of acclaim over the years. It was certified Platinum in the UK, and went 5x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. In Rolling Stone’s magazine list of ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, it took third.
Despite this, I feel as if Revolver is a Beatles’ album that’s often overlooked by fans for the more popular picks like Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road. It’s a shame, too, since Revolver has so many great songs. And taking into account the amount of experimental and innovative techniques The Beatles developed, its a wonder why this album doesn’t stand out as much over the years.
But I guess we are talking about The Beatles here. In my opinion they never put out a bad album, and it has always been hard to rank one of their masterpieces definitively over another. Regardless, the takeaway you should all get from this is: go give Revolver another listen. I promise you’ll hear things you don’t expect if you listen carefully.
- “Eleonor Rigby”
- “I’m Only Sleeping”
- “Love You To”
- “Here, There, And Everywhere”
- “Yellow Submarine”
- “She Said She Said”
- “Good Day Sunshine”
- “And Your Bird Can Sing”
- “For No One”
- “Doctor Robert”
- “I Want To Tell You”
- “Got To Get You Into My Life”
- “Tomorrow Never Knows”